April 23, 2018

Jose Aponte | Movers & Shakers 2003

Outgrowing the Library


As were a surprising number of others on this list, Jose Aponte was born into librarianship: his mother was a librarian who hired him for his first library job, at the age of eight, reading stories to little kids for 25¢ apiece. Yet it made sense in 2000 for him to become a deputy city manager, where the consolidation of the library and the recreation department with housing and other critical services gave him the clout of larger budgets and allowed him to integrate the library into broader municipal planning. He is proud of his accomplishments in the job – the new skateboard park, the plans for a new senior center and a neighborhood center, the work with neighborhood councils to improve the quality of life.

It also made sense for him to return to librarianship. When he was chosen as one of ten librarians for the advisory council of the Laura Bush Foundation for American Libraries, Aponte says he felt like a voice was telling him, “You’re not finished yet – there’s more work to be done.”

Aponte’s work has always been building social capital and developing community, and libraries are simply the best tools he has discovered for doing that. He says that librarians would gain enormous support and power if they only explained how their services support basic community aspirations.

“What do most people care about?” Aponte asks. “Public safety, employment, housing, and education – and the library speaks to all of those needs.” Crime? Libraries are a sanctuary for at-risk kids, on the loose after school lets out. Employment? Libraries offer help wanted ads and books and programming on job-hunting, résumé writing, computer literacy, and ESL. Housing? Libraries provide books and workshops on home remodeling, the home buying process, and financial planning. Education? Librarians teach children to love reading, provide homework help, and offer guidance on college planning, SATs, and financial aid.

The only thing librarians don’t do well, he says, is tell citizens and public officials they’re doing these things. Nor are they as aggressive as he would like in finding out what the community’s dreams are and soliciting citizens’ ideas for the library’s strategic planning to serve those goals.

That’s why Aponte believes librarians need to get out into the public as he has done throughout his career, serving on local boards and agencies, participating in United Way and other charities, working with schools and social workers and community activists. That way whenever important public issues are raised, there’s a librarian at the table, ready to show how the library could help solve the problem and to ask for a fair share of the funding.

Aponte has presided over a number of successful bond issues, and the reason, he says, is that he knows how to put together a coalition of 50 plus one. He knows how to focus his message around local pursuits, showing every significant civic interest group – many of whom he’s worked with – what additional library services will do for them.

A library must extend beyond its own walls to be successful, Aponte says. “The library has outgrown the library. When it’s working, it should.”




Current Position: Executive Director, Pikes Peak Library District, Colorado Springs, January 2003-

Degree: MLS, University of Arizona, Graduate Library Institute for Spanish-Speaking Americans, Bilingual Master’s, 1976

Championships: National Duathlon Champion, World Champion International Triathlon Union Championships